Heavenly Father, by your Spirit and through your word, open our eyes to see the truth, and change our hearts and minds so that we live by it. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Why are you troubled? That's my title this evening, and we're going to take a look at Luke 24.36-53. Please have that open in front of you. "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?" is the question that the risen Jesus asks his doubting disciples. It's a remarkable question, given that the resurrected Jesus is literally standing there, right before them, as if he were standing right here in touching distance of the front row, so that you could reach out and touch him. If he were, maybe he'd ask us the same question. "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?"
So here's my question for us this evening. To what extent do we actually believe in the resurrection of Jesus? And I don't mean ticking the box and saying the creed on Sundays: "On the third day he rose again." There's a big difference between telling ourselves that we believe something, and putting the whole weight of our lives on it, because of a rock-solid conviction that it's really true.
Last week I went up to Scotland for a few days with my family to a holiday cottage on the West coast. I had never seen it. I was told it existed. And what showed that I believed in it? My faith in its existence affected how I thought – I was very much looking forward to being there. And what's more, my faith in its existence had a big effect on how I behaved. I got all packed up and set off in the late evening to get there before the threatened blizzard for the next day blocked our way.
Our whole culture nowadays, it seems to me, is infected by what someone has called "a persistent burden of insecurity and anxiety". That's an infection that has reached deep into the church as well. And maybe at the root of it is a loss of real confidence in the reality of the resurrection and its consequences. So our passage of Scripture this evening is massively helpful, not least because it shows a progression in the thinking and mood of the disciples. Note their changing state of mind; you'll see that they start off startled, frightened, troubled and doubting. They move to a mixture of disbelief, joy and amazement. And by the end they're worshipping, rejoicing and praising, and their lives will never, ever be the same again.
But let's first recap where we've got to. We've been watching the detective series Shetland in recent weeks. Each episode begins with 'Previously …' and a short summary of the plot so far. So where are we by the time we get to Luke 24.36? This is the culmination, of course, of Jesus' three years of tumultuous ministry. He has travelled down to Jerusalem, arrived on that donkey, been subjected to a sham trial, condemned to death by both the religious and secular authorities, sadistically scourged and cruelly crucified. Joseph of Arimathea has courageously taken possession of his body and laid him in a rock tomb. That was Friday. All was quiet on the Saturday, the Sabbath. Early on Sunday morning some of the women went to the tomb and found the stone rolled away and the body gone. Angels met them and told them Jesus was risen. They went and told the eleven remaining apostles, who didn't believe a word of it. But Peter went to investigate. Meanwhile two other disciples on the road to Emmaus met the risen Jesus, though it took a while for the truth to dawn. They rushed back to Jerusalem by which time Peter had also seen Jesus. None of them really knew what to make of it, but they were sharing their stories. And then what? We pick up these almost domestic and yet earth-shattering events from verses 36-38:
"As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!" But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?""
So what's their state of mind at this point? Startled, frightened, troubled and doubting. Not one of those words is positive, despite the fact that just before, back in verse 34, they were saying to one another, "The Lord has risen indeed…" And maybe we can identify with that. They would have ticked the box and said the creed – "on the third day he rose again". But their hearts were in turmoil. They didn't really know what to think. They didn't know whether to believe what they were hearing and seeing and being told. Life was full of trouble and fear and anxiety and insecurity.
And Jesus, the risen Jesus, doesn't want them to be like that. So in what followed, Jesus made clear four things to those troubled disciples. And he shifted their thinking. He wants us to go through the same process. Now it may be that you have never yet really believed in the resurrection. Or maybe you have, but not wholeheartedly. Or maybe you have in the past, but your confidence in the truth of the resurrection has ebbed away under the burdens of life and the onslaught of our unbelieving culture. Whatever your own state of mind, try and put yourself this evening in the shoes of these troubled and doubting men and women. So what did Jesus make clear to them – and to us?
1. Jesus Made Very Clear the Reality of His Bodily Resurrection
You can see that in verses 36-43. Take a look at that:
"As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!" But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them."
So do you see how he gives them the full works. Proof positive that this is not merely some kind of spiritual rising. This is total resurrection. Bodily resurrection. Physical resurrection. His renewed eternal body, no longer subject to death, is of course different to before. But it is a real, physical, flesh, blood and bone body. And through this testimony of those disciples – direct from those who were there that day – Jesus gives us the same proof positive that he has risen bodily from the dead, and he is alive today. He stood there right in front of them. He spoke to them. They all heard him. He showed them the wounds in his hands and feet. Maybe he took off his sandals to make sure they couldn't miss them. He invites them to touch him. Maybe some did. Just to make sure. And then, to cap it all, he asked for some food, took it from them, and ate it there and then. There can be no mistaking it. Jesus has been raised bodily from dead. He could not have made that any clearer. And the thinking of the disciples shifted. But it still wasn't resolved. It was no longer relentlessly negative and fearful. But they still weren't sure. Verse 41:
"… they still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling …"
Their minds were torn. Joy on the one hand. But still doubt on the other. Could it be true? They weren't confident enough to commit without reservation to what they had seen and experienced.
Ten days ago we had our 37th wedding anniversary. It brought back to my mind that period of time before Vivienne and I got engaged when I was full of uncertainty. Would she be willing to commit to sharing her entire life with me? We had come a long way. We did love one another. But this would be a whole new level. This would completely shape the rest of our lives. It was exciting. But also bewildering and scary and unresolved. Maybe that's a bit like how those disciples felt. So Jesus has further steps of understanding to take them through.
2. Jesus Made Very Clear that these Events were the Fulfilment of what had been Written about Him Throughout the Bible
Look on to verse 44:
"Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.""
Those are the three main categories of the Hebrew Scriptures – the Old Testament to us, and the whole of the Bible that they had then. So Jesus is saying that throughout the Bible, from beginning to end, he is written about – anticipating his arrival by hundreds of years. But now the time had come, and what had been written "must be fulfilled". There was no stopping it. God's plan of salvation through Jesus the Son was driving forward to its climax.
My family seems to be featuring this evening, but let me say that this reminds me of the summer of last year. Why? Well, last summer, our son Ben's wife Sophie was expecting our grandson Ezra. We hadn't met him yet. But we knew he was on the way. There was an inevitability about it. It was unstoppable. What had seemed like a long process was pushing forward (if I might put it that way) to its fulfilment in Ezra's birth.
"Everything … must be fulfilled," said Jesus. There was no stopping it. God's good plan and purpose, established even before time began, and repeatedly written about throughout the Scriptures, was unstoppable. That's the second thing that Jesus made very clear. Then:
3. Jesus Opened their Minds to Understand what the Bible Taught
Look on to verses 45-47:
"Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem."
This seems to be part two, as it were, of the Bible teaching seminar that Jesus began with those disciples he met with on the road to Emmaus earlier in the day. Just look across the page to verses 25-27, where Jesus says to them:
""O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."
And after Jesus had left them, they said to each other (verse 32):
"Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?"
So there are two things going on here. First, Jesus is supernaturally opening their otherwise blind spiritual eyes to see and understand what they otherwise would have been blind to, however much they had been taught. It's like glasses. I now wear glasses all the time. I'm very grateful for them, because without them I see double at distance, and I can't read a thing. But with them, all is clear, both at distance and close to. What I'm looking at is the same whether or not I'm wearing my glasses. But without them, I can't make any sense of it. With them, it comes clear. Jesus, by his Holy Spirit, gives us supernatural, spiritual glasses so that we can make sense of the Scriptures.
But then, secondly, having opened their eyes, Jesus fills their minds with Biblical riches. Which passages of Scriptures did he draw their attention to? We don't know. There is so much that points to him, and his cross and resurrection. Maybe they included Genesis 12, Deuteronomy 21, Psalm 22, Isaiah 49, 53 and 61, Zechariah 12-14. These were all referred to by Jesus during his earthly ministry or by the apostles later. They point to the three things that Jesus highlighted about what was starting in that most momentous of weeks in all of history. That is, firstly, his death and resurrection; secondly, the gospel of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name; and thirdly, the proclamation of this gospel to all nations. Those are, if you like, the three big headlines of our faith, as Jesus himself sums it up. So what next? Well:
4. Jesus Made Very Clear how this would Happen
Take look at verses 48-51, where Jesus continues:
""You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven."
Just as an episode of a TV series like Shetland often begins with a 'Previously…', it often ends with a 'To be continued…' or a 'Next time…' And that's what Luke seems to be giving us here, with a short preview of what he's going to expand on in his second book. So the Book of Acts picks up from here and tells the story of the early years of the spread of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus' name. But Jesus is very clear from the start how it's all going to happen, and again there are three elements.
First, the gospel will spread, ultimately to the ends of the earth, through their witness. Secondly, the gospel will spread by the power of the Spirit promised by the Father who Jesus would send. And thirdly, the gospel would spread by the blessing of Jesus. When Jesus lifts up his hands and blesses them and ascends to heaven, it's as if he's saying to them that he will be ruling from heaven and he will be with them by his Spirit, going with them on this great adventure of faith to spread his glory to all nations.
Our son Ben is something of a mountaineer, and on our holiday he wanted to take us all up to the top of Ben Nevis, even in the snow. One or two of us were a bit worried about that. It was a bit daunting. But Ben kept saying to us, "You can do it." And he made sure that we had all the right equipment, just in case. And he promised to be with us all the way. As it happened, conditions didn't allow, so we went up something less high – and had a great adventure in the snow!
And as those who've had our eyes opened, and who've seen that Jesus is alive, raised bodily from the dead on that first Easter Day, we are caught up in the same adventure as those first disciples. They started off, as we've seen, startled, frightened, troubled and doubting. What's their state of mind by the end? It's there in verses 52-53:
"And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God."
They were worshipping, rejoicing, and praising. And that joy and praise, that certainty about the solid, physical, bodily reality of the resurrection, and all that followed from it, was so powerful that they turned the world upside down. And 2000 years later we're still feeling the impact, so strongly that our lives, too are being turned upside down. Our lives, too, are being filled with worship of Jesus, and joy in the Spirit, and praise to our heavenly Father for this wonderful good news. So we can let go of that persistent burden of insecurity and anxiety. And we can take hold of our risen Lord, and be filled with a persistent purpose, secure and rejoicing.
Heavenly Father we praise you for Jesus, crucified and risen. Thank you for the testimony of those first disciples. Thank you for opening our eyes to see the reality of the resurrection. Strengthen our hold on the truth. And we pray that in the power of your Spirit you will use us to tell the world about him and to call people to repentance and faith. In his name we pray. Amen.